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Melissa Moore Stens, Flagler County Judge Candidate: The Live Interview

| July 28, 2012

melissa moore stens flagler county judge candidate elections 2012

Melissa Moore Stens. (© FlaglerLive)

Melissa Moore Stens is one of seven candidates for Flagler County Judge in the Aug. 14 primary election.

The county judge election is a non-partisan race: all registered voters in Flagler County are eligible to cast a ballot in this case–whether Democratic, Republican, Independent or from a minor party. You may cast a vote regardless of the district, the town or the subdivision you live in. If one of the seven candidates wins more than 50 percent of the vote, that candidate will be the winner, and will replace County Judge Sharon Atack, who is resigning at year’s end.

If none of the candidates wins with 50 percent or more of the vote, then the top two vote-getters will head to a run-off in the Nov. 6 general election.

FlaglerLive submitted 14 identical questions to the seven candidates, who replied in writing, with the understanding that some follow-up questions may be asked, and that all exchanges would be on the record. Follow-up questions, when necessary, appear in italics, and may be awaiting answers.

A style note: some lawyers are in the habit of capitalizing quite a few words that would not normally be capitalized in journalistic style. The capitalizations and similarly, specifically legal stylistic quirks have been preserved as a reflection of each attorney’s style.

The Questions in Summary: Quick Links

Melissa Moore Stens: The Basics:

Place and Date of Birth: Miami, Fla., May 20, 1974.
Current job: Attorney and owner, Williams & Moore, P.A. Primary areas of practice are criminal defense and family law matters.
Years practicing law: 13 years and 10 months as of July 24, 2012
Website: melissaforjudge.com
Self-Disclosure Statement with the Florida Bar: Available here.

1.      Where did you go to law school, what was your GPA, and how did you rank in your class?

University of Florida College of Law, with Honors. My GPA was 3.16, rank 9, and I passed the Florida Bar exam the first time I took it.

2.      Have you ever faced a disciplinary issue at any level before the bar (even if it was dismissed), and if so, what were the outcomes?

No.

2012 Election Interviews and Backgrounders

County Judge


Craig Atack
Melissa Moore-Stens

U.S. Congress, Dist. 6


The Ron DeSantis-Heather Beaven Debate: Little Substance, Many Lies and Inventions

Flagler County Commission


George Hanns
Herb Whitaker
Frank Meeker
Abby Romaine

Flagler County Sheriff


Don Fleming (R)
Jim Manfre (D)

The Constitutional Amendments


3.      Many of your defendants in county court will be representing themselves (pro se). What is your strategy for dealing with pro se defendants who will be facing polished attorneys? How will you ensure that they will be treated as fairly, and what allowances will you make for their self-representation, if any?

There are certain days where pro se litigants will be in Court, and typically there are other days reserved for cases with attorneys only. On the days with pro se litigants, I believe it would be beneficial to give an overview of the process for the litigants, so that they have an awareness of the upcoming structure of procedure. However, Judges are unable to give legal advice to litigants, and therefore it becomes difficult to answer questions asked by a pro se litigant in many circumstances. If elected, I would treat everyone in my courtroom fairly and with respect. Pro se litigants will have a full opportunity to be heard and to present their defenses and legal arguments to the Court.

4.      As a judge, one of your most important tasks will be to determine the credibility of witnesses. What factors will you rely on to determine credibility? How do you see the difference between a witness in dreadlocks and tattoos as opposed to one in an Armani suit?

In the Florida Rules of Criminal Procedure, there are several guidelines set forth for juries in assessing the credibility of witnesses. Those factors are whether the witness had the opportunity to see and know the things about which they testified; whether the witness seemed to have an accurate memory; whether the witness was honest and straightforward in answering the attorneys’ questions; whether the witness had some interest in how the case should be decided; whether the witness’ testimony agreed with the other evidence and testimony in the case; whether the witness was offered or received any money, preferred treatment, or other benefit to testify; whether any pressure or threat had been used against the witness to influence his or her testimony; whether the witness made an inconsistent statement with their testimony given in court; whether the witness has been previously convicted of a crime; and whether it was proven that the general reputation for truthfulness of the witness was proven to be bad. These are the factors that I would look to in determining the credibility of all persons coming before the Court. If elected, I will never assess or remove credibility simply based upon race, creed, color, gender, religion, or any other factor protected by law.

Written standards are clear and hopefully prevail, but is a judge always immune from stereotyping?

5.      Along the same lines, it is often the experience of defendants in court that between the word of a cop and the word of a suspect, in he-said-she-said cases, the cops’ word will generally prevail. Explain first why you think that is, and explain to what extent, if any, a cops’ word would carry more weight in your court room than a suspect’s.

As set forth above in the answer to question #4, the credibility of witnesses shall be determined by the trier of fact, sometimes the Court and other times the Jury. Many cases do come down to the testimony of one or more officers versus the testimony of a suspect. Again, the same factors set forth in question #4 has to apply to these cases. Often, the officer’s testimony is consistent with one another and consistent with the evidence, whereas the suspect testimony may not be consistent with one or both of those. This is why I believe cases often are found in favor of the law enforcement officer’s version rather than the suspect’s version. I certainly cannot prejudge any case, person, or testimony in advance of hearing such. Therefore, each case, person, and all testimony will be heard, digested, and analyzed as it is presented to me, if I am so elected.

6.      Understanding that judges do not—cannot—possibly read all their cases but rely substantially on lawyers’ arguments, and that you’ll face a considerable number of civil cases, how much civil law do you know? What areas of civil law have you practiced?

I have had my own law firm for over 11 years now. During that time, I have handled mostly criminal and family law matters. In the realm of family law, I have handled hundreds of cases, including divorces, custody cases, modifications, injunctions for protection against domestic violence, repeat violence, and sexual violence. I have also been a contract attorney for the Department of Revenue (also known as DOR) child support enforcement for 11 years, which equates to thousands of cases per year. This docket handles the signing of all DOR cases. Therefore, I am singularly and uniquely qualified in knowing what the legal standard is for all cases, including petitions for paternity, support, modifications, contempt hearings, writ issuance, petitions for disestablishment of paternity, DNA requests, driver’s license revocation actions, bank levy’s, and the many other enforcement actions that DOR uses to obtain compliance. In addition, when dealing with family law cases, I have often encountered cases that have related issues of landlord-tenant matters, bankruptcy matters, and the like. I have also handled a few small claims actions, including lawsuits initiated by credit card entities against the cardholder, which also is handled by this docket. Therefore, I believe that I have a broad base of knowledge which will transition well to this County Court position.

7.      How will you use technology to speed things along, and will you provide online scheduling of hearings that will be easily available to lawyers and public?

Access to technology can make the court system more efficient and operate smoother. However, not all persons have access to technology, especially some of the pro se litigants referenced in question #4. Therefore, I do believe that utilizing the JACS system (Judicial Automated Calendaring System, or online calendaring) will be beneficial. As a current private practitioner, I have personally had cases where I have looked onto other Judge’s JACS calendars to obtain hearing time, and the earliest available dates are 3-4 months away, even for 15 minute hearings. In that circumstance, the JACS system is not helpful, and my staff ends up calling the Judge’s office anyway. So while the online scheduling can help, it isn’t always the best solution. If elected, I will use the JACS system, and have a link to it from my website, while having a disclaimer that allows people to call in if earlier time is needed or if they are unable to use the system.

8.      What role does religion play in your personal life and your interpretation of law, and how do you intend to keep the two separate?

Most people have a moral and/or religious code by which they conduct themselves. These principles, morals, and beliefs guide us through our everyday life. However, they are separate and distinct from the law.

9.      Name one currently sitting U.S. Supreme Court judge you have the most affinity for legally and philosophically.

Pursuant to Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, I feel that answering this question could appear to support or oppose political issues; I therefore refrain from answering this question.

10.  Attorneys, as in so many professions in today’s dismal economy, are hurting for work. Not many can pull in the guaranteed $134,280 a year you’ll be making as a county judge. Understanding that you’re obviously doing this for the good of your community and for the most noble motives possible, you’re also human, you likely have or will have a family, and it’s no secret or sin that some of you are running to land a steady salary. To what extent is that guaranteed income driving your desire to be a county judge?

The guaranteed income is not a main factor in my desire for this position. While financial security is something that each of us strive for, my desire for this position was born when I was a law student. It has been my goal to become a Judge one day, and I have fashioned my career in such a way to hopefully achieve that goal. I believe that being a Judge is one of the pinnacles of the legal profession, carrying with it both a tremendous burden and responsibility. It should not be approached lightly, or for the wrong reasons. Those attorneys whom have excelled in their careers, whom have been recognized for their achievements, and whom have followed the rules governing the Florida Bar, Florida Statute, Florida Constitution, and the United States Constitution should be considered for the position. This should not be a contest based upon popularity. It should be about the attorneys qualifications, achievements, growth in their chosen area of law, experience in different areas, and dedication to the practice of law.

11.  We all have prejudices at some level. What are yours?

I would certainly have a potential conflict for any case in which I have previously represented one of the litigants. Other than that situation, I feel I would be fair and impartial to all persons coming before me, if elected.

12.  Describe, in as much detail as possible and with examples, your temperament, your emotional hot buttons, and the scale of your ego.

Having been an attorney for almost 14 years now, I have had many situations of intense and contentious litigation. I believe that I am known by opposing attorneys to be respectful and courteous, even in the depths of hostile litigation. Family law is one area of law where people are highly emotional and litigation can be particularly intense and personal. In my family law litigation practice, I make a point to zealously represent my client. However, I also make an equally strong point to explain to my clients that they alone have the ability to control their behavior and should move past the point of being emotional to a point of being able to properly communicate with someone. I believe that advice and guidance shows that I firmly believe that each person should communicate effectively and with respect to all others. I would say my emotional hot buttons revolve around someone personally attacking myself or my family. Beyond that, I feel I can have an intellectual discussion with others without bringing disrespect or emotion into it. I do not consider myself to have a large ego.

13.  You’re part of a small community of lawyers who know each other, have likely faced each other in court or seen each other in action while waiting your turn, have been hearing and speaking about each other through the professional grapevine, and, being lawyers, likely have strong opinions about each other. In other words you know more about each other, especially regarding relevant matters in play here, than any member of the press or public could know. Enlighten us: give us, in your words and assessments, a brief synopsis of each of your opponents’ capabilities, strengths and foibles as you understand them, and whether, in your view, each is qualified to be a county judge.

Again, in order to conform to Canon 7 of the Code of Judicial Conduct, I refrain from answering this question.

14.  Do the same for yourself: Dispensing with such matters as heredity and lengths of stay in Flagler County—which, we hope you agree, are as irrelevant to the law as skin color and culinary tastes—what makes you the best qualified for this position? 

There are two things that I believe make me the most qualified. Being Board Certified in Criminal Trial Law sets me apart as an expert in criminal trial law, which constitutes approximately two-thirds of this docket. I am the only candidate who holds any type of Board Certification, and my certification happens to be in a main area of this position’s docket. Secondly, I am the only candidate who has been a prosecutor, a defense attorney, and owns a private law firm and business locally. Having the perspective of owning a local business allows me to have a connection with the citizens and their interaction with the law and our local court system. I have practiced in front of most Judges in our Circuit because of my extensive private practice. This also allows me to understand the challenges that private attorneys encounter with respect to scheduling, conflicts, and related matters on a daily basis; an attorney who has only worked for the State their entire career has not had this experience and therefore does not have this perspective. Understanding what both prosecutors and defense attorneys are facing in their daily litigation practice would allow me to empathize and effectively manage any problems that could come up. For these reasons, I am the most qualified candidate for this County Court Judicial position.

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57 Responses for “Melissa Moore Stens, Flagler County Judge Candidate: The Live Interview”

  1. K says:

    She is evasive. I never heard of her before she started wallpapering Palm Coast with her signs. I do not like that she wore a campaign button in court- it shows a disregard for the rules or “Canons” she cites in her interview in order to avoid answering questions.

    No way will she get my vote.

  2. Anita says:

    Ms. Moore-Stens answered all of the questions with the exception of #8, religion’s influence on her legal decisions, in the first person. When it came to that question, she took the third person all the way. Hmmmm.

    • Eleanor says:

      Religion has no place in a judicial system!!!!!

      • Anonymous says:

        Religion should play a part in the court system. The fact that so many people feel that is should not is what’s wrong with today’s society. Morals, principles and the WORD OF GOD should play a part in the law. United States was built on Religious principles. Crime and abuse are not tolerated nor common in a world where the WORD OF GOD is respected and guides our society. Look back.

      • Betsy says:

        The law was formed and decided on Religious principlals. Have you forgotten that?

    • FL informed voter says:

      Religion shouldn’t have an influence on a legal decision. Judges should follow the LAW.

  3. FLJoe says:

    Too young, needs more experience. Come back in 10 years.

    • Eleanor says:

      Are you kidding me? This candidate is not too young or inexperienced. What do you want, an older woman on the bench such as myself who is so set on her ways that there would be no chance of a fair and impartial verdict?

    • FL informed voter says:

      Wonder if you feel same way now….with her only opponent having only 6 years experience total as a lawyer. She has been practicing for 14 years, and been an FL Supreme Court recognized expert in Criminal Trial law as long as he has had a bar license.

  4. Stu says:

    I’d love for someone to show me the rule/law/cannon that prohibits a candidate from wearing a name badge or “wallpapering” signs throughout the county. Hardly reasons to vote against someone. Want a reason to vote against someone? How about Scott Westbrook openly and brazenly violating the cannons by attending a political function for another candidate (and signing in on the damn sign-in sheet!). They don’t get more clear cut than that! If someone is looking for reasons to vote against a judicial candidate, there’s your shining example.

    • Stu,

      Feel free to contact the Judicial Ethics Advisory Commission about your concern. I stopped to say hi to a couple of ladies from my Lions Club who had invited me to stop by on the way to a meeting. I saw Melissa’s husband, Michael Stens, at the meeting and became concerned that I was not permitted to be there. I left immediately and researched the issue. When I found a JEAC opinion prohibiting judicial candidates from going to another political candidates meeting I reported the incident myself by phone that evening and sent a letter the next day. As for the button issue, Canon 7 did not prevent her from wearing a campaign button in the courtroom. I did not object to her wearing it in court which she has done many times. I only objected when we were conducting a jury trial and she was attempting to wear the button. I believe in being completely forthright about issues. No exceptions.

      Scott Westbrook

      • pamala zill says:

        DEAR Mr. Westbrook…….. is. There any difference. In proclaiming. Your Baptist. Faith and MELISSA MOORE STEMS WEARING AN AMERICAN SYMBOL? I WANT TO KNOW. THANK YOU

      • FL informed voter says:

        Scott,

        If you say it wasnt a violation for Melissa to wear the nameplate, then why would you object? She did nothing wrong, you admitted that. If you were personally bothered, as you couldn’t wear one yourself I can understand that and wouldn’t have a problem. If that is the case, then the few supporters of yours that comment on her page need to stop saying how she was wrong and unethical. An objection in a trial is a far cry from an unethical violation as people have posted and implied. You invited comments by posting yourself and arrogantly saying to take concerns to the Judicial committee.

  5. Home Grown says:

    Needs to work on her personality. Be careful…it could be bad news if it rains and your nose is in the air.

  6. Grose says:

    Employees of the State of Florida (Assistant State Attorneys and Assistant Public Defenders) cannot wear badges identifying themselves as candidates while on duty. That rule does not apply to private attorneys. There is no Judicial Ethics Advisory Opinion that prohibits private attorneys from wearing badges in court. Therefore, Melissa has not done anything unethical by wearing a badge in court.

    Also, it is a Judge’s responsibility to interpret the law. I don’t think God wrote the law, so I’m not really sure what a persons religious beliefs have to do with their ability to be a judge.

    Additionally, Melissa only has 11 months less “experience” than any of the “older” candidates FLJoe. I know where my vote is, her experience speaks for itself.

  7. susan harvet says:

    to K: how do you know she is evasive if you never even heard of her???. she has the best qualifications and knowledge or the law. She is getting my vote AND religion has no place in the courtroom!!!

  8. K says:

    Susan Harvet, I beg to differ. She is less than impressive and I have ethical concerns about her as I stated above.

    And it looks like I have a good deal of agreement.

  9. Carjo says:

    @K…obviously your mind was made up before you even read the interviews…evasive? really? were her responses any different than the other candidates (except for the one you clearly support)? No.

    And ethical concerns? What rules did Ms. Moore-Stens violate? If she broke an ethical rule by wearing a campaign button in court don’t you think the judge (particularly Judge Atack) would have had something to say about it?

    As far as religion, I agree with Eleanor and FL informed voter, it has no place in the courtroom. The law is the law and judges are in place to uphold what our state legislature has passed. Let’s keep in mind this is not a seat on the Supreme Court where complicated legal issues are evaluated but rather a County judge position where no new law will be created by the judge’s decision.

    As for her age, after reading through all the candidate’s interview answers I don’t think her age should play a role in anyone’s decision. Ms. Moore-Stens has been a practicing attorney for over 13 years which is comparable to the other candidates who are older than her. This position has no minimum age limit and, one’s age does not necessarily equate to one’s professional experience.

  10. FL informed voter says:

    K, please elaborate…your ethical concerns are wearing a nameplate in court? That’s ridiculous. Melissa is absolutely the most qualified candidate.

    • Common Sense says:

      In a judicial race, I do not believe the wearing of a campaign button is the most important issue to discuss, but I feel compelled to address it. I believe everyone would agree there is no law that states you must remove your hat during the playing of the National Anthem. Yet, the greater majority of us do out of respect for all of the sacrifices the song represents. There may or may not be a rule that specifically states a lawyer cannot wear a campaign button, a.k.a. “name tag” , in the courtroom, but people with common sense and respect for the process would have to agree it is in poor taste to do so. Candidate Moore-Stens’ actions seem to demonstrate that she is more preoccupied with elevating her political stratus then performing her duties as an officer of the court.

  11. Will says:

    @K – you do seem to have a chip on your shoulder for Ms. Moore-Stens. That’s OK, for our democracy allows you to choose the candidate you like.

    BUT – from my point of view, her credentials are impressive and her ethics are on firm ground.

    Whether she answered the religion question in the first or third person shouldn’t matter a lot unless it’s in a college English class. Her comment is right on, and whatever her faith is doesn’t matter as long as she follows the law.

  12. PalmCoast says:

    Religion is a building block to everyone’s moral fiber!…that is why the question was asked!

    With age comes wisdom! Nothing else to add to that…the statement speaks for itself!

    To Cannon 7…hiding behind this rule to when it is convenient…taking contributions from another candidate in the same election (even done by that candidate’s wife) which shows a party alliance is an outright violation of the Cannon rule!

    Wearing a “vote for me” button in court is NOT a name tag and is a violation of the Cannon rule!
    I surely don’t want a Judge that has a nasty demeanor, which hides behind the rules (Cannon 7) when it is convenient and cannot find one nice thing to say about the other candidates in the race, sitting on the bench.

    I also don’t want a candidate that has earned their living by keeping criminals out of jail! Gives me the felling that if past clients come before the court, justice may have a blind eye, since they have paid her salary in the past!

    [Palm Coast, your reference to the name plate is incorrect. It was not a “vote for me” button. It said: “Melissa Moore Stens in larger letters, and Flagler County Judicial Candidate in smaller letters.–FL]

    • Chad says:

      I see nothing wrong with the wearing of a button which identifies her as a candidate. It informs the public and allows them to judge her in person, rather than from a text interview.

    • AF says:

      Religion is NOT a building block to EVERYONE’s moral fiber.You sound like the christian taliban.

  13. K says:

    No chip here. But I did make up my mind about Moore-Stens when I learned she was perverting justice by defending the guy that shot his neighbor in the back- and is using the stand your ground law. Sorry but the victim of that MURDER was in his own yard and retreating when Ms. Moore-Stens’ client shot him in cold blood- did I mention IN THE BACK while he was crawling away?

    • FL informed voter says:

      This is the United States…everyone is entitled to a defense regardless if you agree with it. It’s one of the foundations of our justice system. Her job right now happens to be a defense attorney.

      Another thing…her mother is a retired Deputy Sheriff and she is married to a Police Officer. She was also a FELONY PROSECUTOR. If you don’t agree, don’t vote for her. But, DO NOT imply things to intentionally hurt someone.

  14. Dorothea says:

    @K and Palm Coast

    Everyone is entitled to a legal defense in this country. Ms. Moore-Stens is representing a client in court who has not been adjudicated guilty as yet. In fact, I applaud Ms. Moore-Stens’ courage for accepting this case knowing full well that she would be a candidate for judge and that the legally uninformed members of the community would not understand that because a lawyer defends a client in his/her professional life doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an opinion on guilt or innocence in their personal llife.

    Spend some time googling a cases where the innocent spent years of their lives in prison or were executed for crimes they didn’t commit because of ineffective legal council. Maybe than you will understand why we need to provide competent council to even those who are accused of the most heinous of crimes.

  15. PalmCoast says:

    @ Dorothea:

    Agreed all should be afforded legal defense counsel, as it should be and is done in our legal system!

    To afford a “good” legal defense it costs…in return that being a salary for a Defense Attorney.

    BUT if an attorney is looking to becoming a judge, maybe defending criminals is not a real good career choice to take!!!

    Many inmates in our jails also scream they are innocent!! So were they all found guilty because of ineffective (defense) legal counsel?

  16. K says:

    You can make her a martyr all you would like. Personally I find the defense strategy she is employing to be repulsive and I can only imagine she will show sympathy to similar strategies as a judge. Flagler County is struggling with crime as it is. We need someone that will not be soft on murderers or any criminal for that matter.

    If she sees fit to defend a man that murdered his neighbor in that fashion as standing his ground she is not brave or smart or defending the little guy. She is prostituting herself out for media attention. It’s disgusting.

    • FL informed voter says:

      K,
      Number one- she hasn’t spoken to the media ONE time about the case…how is that “prostituting” herself to the media?

      Number two- The retiring Judge herself was a former defense attorney. Did she do a bad job because of her prior defense minded job? I think not. If you were charged with a crime, would you stand by your same “lynch mob” mentality that people apparently shouldn’t be defended in court? I don’t think you would. If you think only people that prosecute can be judge, that view is extremely narrow minded.

    • Michael Stens says:

      Ask her defendants how soft she was to criminals when she was a prosecutor. Her very last trial as a felony prosecutor the criminal she convicted recieved a 30 year sentence. The candidate you choose to support is in misdemeanor court (from your posts), handling more minor crimes. I can’t stand by and read this nonsense from people that don’t know the truth and post lies. Again, your baseless negative rhetoric is wrong. She was as tough as they come. But, you wouldn’t know that. You’d rather make up slander and imply she would be soft on crime because her current job is a defense attorney. Read about her legal career and what she has done before you make yourself foolish.

  17. Carjo says:

    @PalmCoast…

    “BUT if an attorney is looking to becoming a judge, maybe defending criminals is not a real good career choice to take!!!”

    I worked in the federal court system for several years and many of the appointed federal judges (appointed by both Republican and Democratic presidents) were federal public defenders or privately employed criminal defense attorneys before taking the bench. Being a defense attorney does not and should not preclude someone from being a judge. And, being a prosecutor does not automatically equate to being a better judge. What matters is their knowledge of the law and their dedication to upholding the law.

    And what’s your issue with “salary”? I do believe that our tax money pays a nice salary and benefit package for our prosecutors. I think a defense attorney deserves to be paid as well.

    As far as Ms. Moore-Stens’ ability to be impartial, keep in mind that according to her bio her mother is a retired FL police officer and her husband is a police officer. Moreover, she also worked as a felony prosecutor for the state attorney’s office.

  18. PalmCoast says:

    @ Flagler Live:

    TY for the accurate quoting to the words of the button Ms. Sten was wearing in court. ALL judicial candidates whether they are prosecution or defense must adhere to the same conduct rule being Cannon for professional conduct for candidates. From your own words quote: ” [Palm Coast, your reference to the name plate is incorrect. It was not a “vote for me” button. It said: “Melissa Moore Stens in larger letters, and Flagler County Judicial Candidate in smaller letters.–FL]”
    As stated this remains NOT to be a “name plate” BUT a “campaign button”. The court room is not an arena for campaigning and should not be.

  19. Karmen says:

    This page possesses perhaps the most vehement and vitriolic comments. It is evident from comments on previous candidates pages and on this one that K and Palm Coast are enthusiastic supporters if not campaign members of Scott Westbrook. The assertion that being a defense attorney is a poor career choice for a future judge is absurd at best. In accepting the role of an attorney, one accepts the assertion of innocence until proven guilty; much as a judge is expected to do. If one takes the stand that the defendant in a criminal case is not worthy of representation, then how is he or she expected to make a fair determination from the bench. Calling attention to Mrs. Moore-Stens’ client is nothing more than contemptuous mud slinging. If you do not wish to support a candidate then so be it. If you wish to question a candidate’s qualifications then do so; but let’s at least attempt to give the illusion of mature adults by basing our concerns on something better than baseless allegations and blatant backbiting. The statement that being a defense attorney makes a poor basis for a judge is akin to arguing that being a former factory worker makes one unqualified to be a future CEO. Who better understands the processes and applications of the law than someone that has served it in its entirety? We don’t want to like the person that defends the pedophile because we are uncomfortable with the idea that such a person receives a defense. Someone that can set aside his or her personal distaste for such a person and provide them with the legal counsel afforded him/her under the laws of the state demonstrates true objectivity and fairness under the law. That ability to disconnect the personal from the legal is precisely what one should wish for in a judge. I should hope that even though the justice I stand before in a divorce hearing believes personally that divorce is a sin that he/she would have the ability to set aside that personal conviction and render a fair decision under the laws of the state. That you would seek to discredit someone based upon an ability to limit personal bias speaks to your preference for personal beliefs and ideology over professional decorum and qualification. I would caution you that your preference is a double edged sword. If you found yourself in a position to be judged as having exercised self defense or having committed manslaughter would you want a judge that believes criminals deserve no defense, or one that has the ability to hear your case based upon the evidence provided?

  20. PalmCoast says:

    @Carjo:

    I find quite a big difference between a Federal Court Judge and local County Judge. A Federal Judge is not deciding cases in a local County courtroom.

    Ms. Sten has only worked a very short period as Felony Prosecutor, several years ago, in another County, before she became a Private Criminal Defense Attorney here in Flagler County.

    Yes taxpayers do pay the salary of a Prosecutor, since the Prosecutors job is to represent us the “PEOPLE”. So yes! the taxpayers do pay the salary of a Prosecutor. BUT the salary they earn is not even 1/3 the salary of a “private” criminal attorney. But all legal proceedings do cost. Just as a Public Defender is afforded to people who cannot pay for a Private Defense Attorney, we the taxpayer also take on that burden of cost in a courtroom, to offer defendants legal representation.

    I see no correlation to Ms. Sten’s ability to be impartial simple because of her “family” relationships.

  21. PalmCoast says:

    I would like to again address the name tag/button worn in the courtroom by Ms. Sten.

    The Prosecutor (Attorney) is there to represent us the “People”.

    The Defense (Attorney) is there to represent the “Accused”.

    The Judge is there to oversee that the rule of law is followed and/or weigh the “evidence” as presented.
    If a Jury (citizens from the community) is present they weigh the evidence and thus determine guilt or innocents.

    The Attorneys are there as an “extension” of who they represent, may it be us the “people” or for the “accused”. A name tag to identify the Attorneys is not needed or used in a courtroom, as the Attorneys are not the individual whose life will be alter by the proceedings. The Attorney’s names are part of the record, as to whom they represent. Even the court judge presiding has no need for a name tag as that is also a part of official record.

    As Mr. Westbrook stated he had no problem with the button Ms. Sten was wearing ONLY till it came to a “jury” trail. By wearing a button that says:…Melissa Moore Stens in larger letters, and Flagler County Judicial Candidate in smaller letters” is NOT a name tag….it is a “campaign button” stating her as a candidate in the current election.

    I don’t think the individual she represents cares at that time he or she is sitting in the courtroom, what the Attorneys future intentions are. I would believe the accused main concern is their “representation” to the charges in front of them, as should be the Attorney that is representing them.

    But the reason this becomes important is Ms. Sten SHOULD clearly know that by wearing such a button in the “courtroom” with a “jury” of local citizens it is a “distraction” to that “jury”. This action of wearing this button could be used as a reason to overturn a verdict on appeal and be shown as ineffective counsel!

    I would believe the Judicial Committee that oversees the Cannon Rule would clearly see this as a violation to the accused rights thus a distraction of representation and further see this as campaigning in the courtroom.

  22. Michael Stens says:

    I just want to personally thank everyone for commenting on these questions. I am married to Melissa. These comments have brought many people to read these and draw more people to learn about Melissa’s qualifications. I have read through all of the comments in each candidates page. In my opinion, it seems that “K”, “Palm Coast”, and “Dorothea” are intent on saying negative things about Melissa on this site. It’s clear the candidate you support, as your posts on his page are glowing endorsements. I commend you on supporting your choice of candidate, however, don’t attempt to imply or make outright false and outlandish comments to discredit Melissa. I hope your strategy to spew contempt backfires. Scott Westbrook himself seems to have a particular interest in Melissa and these comments. I would like to know why. If he was confident in his campaign and accomplishments, there should be no need to worry about her. Interesting. Melissa speaks with her experience and credentials. Her numerous accomplishments in the legal field are unmatched when compared with others in this race. I ask readers to look at all of the posters, and make your own conclusions as to the intent and purpose of the content. We will see on August 14th what is more important. Thanks again for the extra exposure by your negative comments. The more people that read this, the better she looks when compared.

  23. Karmen says:

    First of all, if the accused feels that wearing a campaign button precludes counsel from providing effective defense, then it is his/her right to voice that opinion and to request it be removed or another defender be assigned. Apparently this wasn’t an issue for anyone other than the prosecuting attorney.
    Second, if it is such an egregious violation of the Cannon Rule, then it seems some action would be taken against Mrs. Moore-Stens. However, it has not.
    Third, if wearing a campaign pin were reason for overturning a verdict on appeal, I feel fairly certain the presiding judge would have addressed it immediately. It’s my understanding that judicial figures are not fond of appeals for such inane reasons.
    Finally, why is this a continuing issue? Is this really so scandalous as to derail the entire campaign? If your major ethical concern is over a campaign button, then you are really searching for something.

  24. Donna Heiss says:

    I’m not getting this. Can I have the definition of an attorney? Now, that’s a loaded question. If you were injured in an accident, would you call a criminal defense attorney? No, you would call a personal injury attorney. If you where injured at work, would you call a criminal defense attorney? No, you would call a workman’s comp. attorney. I think you get the picture. The point I am trying to make is, most attorneys work in specialized fields. I’m pretty certain if you or a loved one was accused of murder you wouldn’t be calling an attorney who specializes in real estate transactions. What if you called criminal defense attorneys and no one would represent you? Would you cry foul. Of course. Should there be no criminal defense attorneys? Maybe a public lynch mob would work instead? The fact remains everyone, regardless of the crime they are accused of is entitled to defense. It is in our constitution. It is the way our justice system works. Ms. Moore-Stens has been on both sides of the courtroom. To me, that shows experience in both areas. It also shows she is capable of handling high stress cases. A quality any judge will surely need to posses.

    I see her defense experience along with prosecution experience a plus for Flagler County.

  25. K says:

    I’ve never met Westbrook. Just liked what he had to say. I also liked Dwyer but don’t like that he has had bar complaints and like Appignani but am not comfortable with his discipline record either.

    Funny how defensive people are so quick to assume someone is fraternizing with the “enemy” rather than having fair thoughts and opinions.

    As far as I’m concerned that is a childish mentality that does not belong on any bench any where.

  26. Carjo says:

    @K…fair enough…if you like what one candidate has to say over another that is perfectly acceptable. But, exactly what “childish mentality” are you referring to? Ms. Moore-Stens has not posted on this article as far I can tell. Her husband is clearly his own person and allowed to voice his opinion as we all have. Take it for what it is. And, seriously? Everyone deserves effective counsel. That is the foundation of our system. I think Ms. Heiss did a good job of explaining it.

    @PalmCoast…First, my mention of federal court judges was obviously misunderstood. I simply wanted to point out that even judges who are appointed by presidents of both political parties have worked as criminal defense attorneys. My comment on this issue was in response to your statement: “BUT if an attorney is looking to becoming a judge, maybe defending criminals is not a real good career choice to take!!!”. I was not trying to compare the dockets of a federal judge to a county judge. But, for the record, I feel compelled to point out that there is one federal courthouse that does in fact hear cases similar to cases that would come before our county judge. The judges hear cases ranging from custody issues to divorce, to DUI, to other traffic issues, to prostitution, to all misdemeanor offenses, to felonies, etc. The court of which I speak is the Superior Court of the District of Columbia. There are 2 federal courthouses in DC. Superior Court hears the above cases which result from local crimes in DC, and the US District Court hears federal cases. Moreover, the judges in both courts are appointed by the President and the US Attorney’s office prosecutes the cases. But I digress.

    Where Ms. Moore-Stens practiced as a state attorney has no relevant bearing on this race. A crime is a crime is a crime no matter where it is committed. Crimes in Flagler county are legally no different than crimes in another county. Yes, she worked as a prosecutor at the beginning of her career years ago but that does not negate the fact that she was a prosecutor. She has worked both sides. Which other candidate has?

    As for the salary, everyone involved in the criminal justice system gets paid. Big deal. Do you know what Ms. Moore-Stens charges for her services? If you don’t, how do you know that it is a lot? I ask because you seem to imply that it is. Do you know what the other privately employed candidates charge for their time and effort?

    Also, since you seem to focus on the “button” in court issue, how do you know about that? Were you in the courtroom when she wore it? Did you see her in the courthouse wearing it? Or, did you hear about it from another candidate? I ask only because you seem to take particular offense to this and are making accusations of an ethical violation because of it. Just curious is all. :)

    Finally, you seem to be of the belief that because Ms. Moore-Stens is a defense attorney that she could not be an impartial adjudicator of the law yet at the same time seem to be of the belief that a candidate who has been working solely as a prosecutor can be impartial. Really?

    I find it unfortunate that the good work of FL in “introducing” us to all the candidates has been hijacked by naysayers and mudslingers. Take the information provided for what it is and make and informed decision when you go to vote. That’s the best we can ask of the voters of Flagler County.

    • K says:

      The childish mentality I see and have seen in the community regarding support for Ms. Moore-Stens is what I refer to. The brutish behavior here- that anyone critical of this particular candidate must be friends with or members of an opponent’s campaign is a perfect example. This is not the first time I have witnessed this behavior from her supporters and I’m sure it won’t be the last.

      I have no problem with anyone’s experience as a defense attorney. As stated I do have a problem with any attorney perverting and twisting laws to defend criminals. In the case of Paul Miller, the Flagler Beach man that shot his neighbor in the back while he was crawling away, Ms. Moore-Stens defended those actions as stand your ground. (http://www.news-journalonline.com/news/local/flagler/2012/07/12/attorney-undecided-about-stand-your-ground-defense-in-flagler-beach-killing.html)

      In my opinion that crime is not justified by stand your ground and as a result I have legitimate concerns that should Ms. Moore-Stens be on the bench in Flagler County her interpretation of that particular law could result in her being sympathetic toward people that unjustifiably cite that law as a reason for shooting people.

      It is a valid concern. The last thing Flagler County needs is the perception that they have a license to shoot first and ask questions later just because someone ticks them off. As a citizen and a voter, I have every right to express my concerns about that and to vote accordingly.

      That does not mean Westbrook or any other candidate is prodding me to do so. And it does not mean that I think that accused criminals are not entitled to a defense. It just means that on an ideological, moral and ethical level I differ with Ms. Moore-Stens. Due to those differences I will not support her candidacy.

      • Michael Stens says:

        Interesting…you seem to have softened your stance now. I personally responded as you wrote “her defense strategy repulsive” and will “show sympathy to similar strategies as a Judge.” You even went further to say “we need someone that will not be soft on murderers or any criminal for that matter.” let me address both of your slanderous comments.

        Defense strategy- Are you a lawyer? What strategy would you use if hired to defend someone in a similar situation? By definition a defense attorneys job is to defend their client to the best of their ability under the law. If you don’t agree with that law, make your voice heard to the legislature and get it changed.

        Soft on crime comment- Let me again mention she was a felony prosecutor and has convicted many serious criminals that have received life sentences and her very last case got 30 years for being a child molester. I repeat…do your research on someone before you make up lies or assumptions. Her mother is a retired Deputy Sheriff and I am a Police Detective. She was raised with a mother who was definitely not soft on crime and started her legal career locking criminals up. You can vote for whoever you choose to, but again, your uninformed slander is not called for. Support your candidate, but quit making up innuendos about things you either don’t know or ignore. I only mentioned your choice of candidate as you had a glowing evaluation in their comments.

        I again thank you for making people read these responses and making the truth be told. People are smart enough to see your agenda in an attempt to discredit Melissa. The link to the article you posted even says “attorney undecided about stand your ground defense.” Please read your earlier posts about the article contradicts with your emphatic statements of disgust towards Melissa (your words). The trial hasn’t even happened yet. Your nasty comment of “prostituting” herself to media about the case is also a lie. She has never spoken to media once about the case. Educate yourself about facts. In my opinion, your posts look nothing but hateful and fabricated at best.

        Michael Stens

        • K says:

          My stance has not softened. Stop kidding yourself.

          • Michael Stens says:

            If your stance hasn’t softened, then why is your only comment to say stop kidding yourself. I just completely proven your statements were false and meant to describe her as something she isn’t. I pose the same as “Palm Coast” to you then. If you have the guts to post lies about someone and to insinuate things they are not, then use your real name. People read these things, and I felt it only right to respond to these comments and show what is real. I ask again “K”, read my last post again And explain to me how Melissa was, or would be soft on crime and criminals in the future? You made the statement, which disproved with actual knowledge. Look it up if you choose to. And, your nasty comment of “prostituting” herself to the media? Your own link debunked that. Show this
            Forum evidence of Melissa speaking to the media about this case, or any facts at all about it. If you don’t like the person that was involved in the incident, that is different. Vote however you choose “K”, but I won’t stand by your insinuations on a public forum where people can read it and think your rhetoric is fact. If I’m wrong, show me where I am. Melissa was one of the fiercest FELONY prosecutors around, as she was quickly promoted past the misdemeanor crimes. This is usually the normal progression of working at the State Attorney’s Office or any job. Most people want to move higher in the ranks, unless they can’t.

            Michael Stens

  27. Dorothea says:

    @K

    You use the words “childish” and “brutish” to describe those of us who disagree with you. That’s your opinion, which, in my opinion is childish. Read the following about the role of a criminal defense lawyer as defined by US Supreme Court Justice White:

    “United States Supreme Court Justice White Defined the Role of the Criminal Defense Attorney

    But defense counsel has no comparable obligation to ascertain or present the truth. Our system assigns him a different mission. He must be and is interested in preventing the conviction of the innocent, but, absent a voluntary plea of guilty, we also insist that he defend his client whether he is innocent or guilty. Defense counsel need present nothing, even if he knows what the truth is. He need not furnish any witnesses to the police, or reveal any confidences of his client, or furnish any other information to help the prosecution’s case. If he can confuse a witness, even a truthful one, or make him appear at a disadvantage, unsure or indecisive, that will be his normal course. Our interest in not convicting the innocent permits counsel to put the State to its proof, to put the State’s case in the worst possible light, regardless of what he thinks or knows to be the truth.”

    http://www.avvo.com/legal-guides/ugc/the-role-of-a-prosecutor-and-criminal-defense-attorney

  28. PalmCoast says:

    Melissa made several errors in judgment, and I feel standing up and taking responsibility for those actions shows a mature level of comprehension to FACTS.

    FACT: not answering questions posed to her as a candidate thus hiding behind a rule that does not preclude her from answering those questions.

    FACT: campaigning in the courtroom by wearing a button that clearly stated her intentions as a running candidate in the current local election.

    FACT: accepting a campaign contribution from another candidate’s wife whose husband is running with a political party affiliation in the same election.

    These are actions Melissa took herself and nobody else should be held accountable for, should have to answer for or be bashed for, as these were her “own actions”, no one else’s!

    • Michael Stens says:

      Palm Coast,

      It would be interesting to know who are and why you’re so concerned with this “campaign button” issue that you seem to be focused on. My name is right above. You seem to think she was “campaigning” in the courtroom even though no violations were made, even admitted by your self-admitted candidate Scott Westbrook. But, since you keep mentioning this issue I’ll give you a FACT about Scott.

      FACT- Scott Westbrook and his family came to the VFW on Memorial Day to actively hand out campaign literature and speak to people about his experience. As far as I know, he is not a member of this organization. I am. Several candidates were there all day , and not one was campaigning at all. Memorial Day is a day to honor veterans, especially ones that have given the ultimate sacrifice. Scott was there for not even 10 minutes, and a VFW leader went to the stage to state the VFW is not a political organization, and to stop handing things out and campaigning. He was holding a Scott Westbrook campaign palm card. This was offensive on so many levels. You have the audacity to bash Melissa for merely wearing a nameplate, when she did not reference it at all in court or point it out. She was not handing out information or said one time she was running for Judge. Scott Westbrook brought up the issue. Now, back to the VFW. Melissa’s uncle was killed in action during the Vietnam War. This was the first time her mother attended any type of event like this because I encouraged her to come with me. Scott Westbrook took this oppurtunity to ACTIVELY campaign in a place that doesn’t allow it, not to mention how absolutely disrespectful it was to everyone there. How is that for someone that continues to say, and so do you, that he is so moral and ethical. I beg to differ. Again, numerous candidates for office (including other judicial candidates) were there and no one else made any mention of it. This was a public event, and he had every right to be there. But, have some respect. I didnt hear of anyone there that was not bothered by his actions that day. And, there were hundreds of people in attendance. If you want to keep hiding behind “Palm
      coast” and mentioning “facts.” Be very careful with throwing “facts” around. Explain to me how ethical and moral his values were to do that. Please. Again, this response is only to set the truth to explain your falsehood. My account was witnessed firsthand and I am not speaking as someone else. If you continue to make these negative and inflammatory comments, I invite you to identify who you really are. Ball is in your court.

      Michael Stens

      • K says:

        That’s right. Deflect deflect deflect and point the finger elsewhere.

        That’s the Moore-Stens style of campaigning that has become legendary

  29. PalmCoast says:

    Mr. Michael Stens:

    Nice defense move on your part..expecting I should have to explain myself for the misjudgments/actions of another…not happening! I have and I refuse to do so again (explain myself)! I have clearly stated my issues and concerns about/to your wife as candidate. I am not running for public office and feel no need to justify myself to you or anyone else about any issues or concerns that I may have as a voter. As stated in my prior post: an explanation from Ms. Stens to her actions is for her to defend. I posted to known FACT…are you disputing any of the FACTS stated as false?

    I am sure you would like for me to explain Mr. Westbrook’s actions also…sorry again…I have “no need to step into his shoes” and explain “for” him, to you or anyone else his actions.

    I get the feeling you have a great need to interject yourself into this conversation here as a proxy for your wife….but as I see it your continuation of mudsling in no better that what you suggest of the rest of us here of doing! That is calling the kettle black!

    The conduct of a police officer should be non threatening….are you implying I should take your caution message as a threat to retaliation by a police officer?

  30. Michael Stens says:

    Funny how I’m actually proving your comments are baseless lies and slander, and the only comments you can make are more of the same. And, each one of you are still posting and hiding under a pseudonym name. I listed each one of your insinuating and implied attacks, and showed exactly how it wasn’t true. Each post after under each one of your fake names doesn’t dispute anything that I have said like I have done with yours. Instead, you still hide and call the comments “childish” or meant to “deflect.” I have done it several times already on here, and I will continue to do so until “K” and “Palm Coast” tell me where I am wrong or dispute my truth and facts I have used to show you how your lies, insinuation, and rhetoric are wrong. These comments are coming from me, as I actually know and can show you otherwise. So, keep hiding behind your fake names. Let me point out again who “K” and “Palm Coast” are supporting, as you can go right to Scott Westbrook’s page and read their comments for him. Read every one of their comments and mine. You can clearly see what is going on. Scott Westbrook posted here earlier and mentioned my name when someone else brought up an incident that he later “self-reported” to the Judicial Commission after he left. I was the one that told Scott he wasn’t allowed to be at that event. That is how he was suddenly “concerned” he wasn’t supposed to be there. Scott is supposed to know the rules of what he can and can’t do as a Judicial candidate. What he did was a violation, and he reported it himself after he left. But, not after brazenly telling me “I’m allowed to be here, this isn’t a political event.” (it was a campaign kick off party) I don’t think that statement is consistent with wha you said earlier about seeing some ladies that invited you while on your way home. Has Melissa committed any violations at all? These supporters of yours claim it, or certainly imply it. No, she hasn’t. If you still seem to think she has, post the proof. You can’t. I didn’t even bring any of this up. I’m only posting this to show where you and your supporters are wrong. You can call it “childish” or a “deflection” all you want, what you can’t call it is wrong. But, it is somewhat of a “deflection.” However, I’m deflecting your posts and showing people the actual truth.

    And, I’m not campaigning. I’m responding to your vicious and wrong statements. I am not a candidate, and no one else is affiliated with my comments. I haven’t said one bad word about your candidate as you and others have done here numerous times. I give you actual facts and encounters that can be verified. “K” and “Palm Coast” choose to sling mud behind fake names to hide who they are and the motive behind the negative attacks on Melissa. The only response you can make against anything I said is to call more names like “childish” and “deflecting.” How many times do I have to ask you to prove me wrong or say anything I have mentioned is inaccurate. Post it. Prove it. Stop with the slander and go support your candidate. I have no problem with you doing that at all. My only issue is the lies and vicious attacks. I will continue to point them out for what they are. Your energy should be focused on supporting and helping your candidate. In my opinion, you’re doing nothing but helping Melissa by trying to bring her down and make your person look better in comparison. It actually does the opposite. You, and your candidate, cannot say or do anything to challenge my facts. Keep hiding and slinging insults. Show everyone else your “morals” and “ethics.” I don’t think telling lies about people shows that.

    [Michael and K, please let’s end the back and forth on this now, the subject having been exhausted. Thanks.–FL]

  31. Melissa Castaneda says:

    Vote for Melissa! Have a wonderful day! :)

  32. Karen says:

    I have never been this closely associated with an election and am saddened by the hate fill comments on this site. I am Scott Westbrook’s mother-in-law and know him to be an honorable person as I’m sure all the candidates are. It’s an election, not The Hunger Games. I live in Volusia so I am not eligible to vote in this election but if I could Scott would of course have my vote. But as he always says to prospective voters, “I would appreciate your vote but just be sure you vote, it’s important to let your voice be heard.” Thank you.

  33. Macboom says:

    All these turkeys hide behind their judicial canon. I want to know their core beliefs, their formative history. They want the job and I happen to be their damn employer. We have no gods hidden behind these robes; regardless of where they place themselves on societies pyramid

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